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What Does The Bible Say About Divorce And Emotional Abuse?

What does the Bible say about divorce and emotional abuse?


There is nothing like a perfect marriage or a perfect person. Therefore, it is only normal that there would be troubles that would arise in a marriage.

Every marriage experiences trials and difficulties, but even though it is normal to have issues arising in marriage, when the issues are more destructive and damaging to a party’s physical, emotional, or mental health, there may be a need for separation.

Marriage is a noble union that God has high regard for. This is evident in how the Bible talks about it extensively.

In the beginning, God said it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

He then went on to make a woman for the man from the bone of his ribs.

When speaking about this, Jesus Christ emphasizes that the man and his wife have become one flesh, joined together by God (Matthew 19:4-6).

Paul the apostle likens the relationship between Jesus Christ and the church to the relationship that should be between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33).

In many instances, God described his relationship with the children of Israel as that of a married couple and their unfaithfulness to Him by serving other gods as adultery (Jeremiah 3:6-14, Ezekiel 16:28-32, Isaiah 54:5).

Marriage is a divinely ordained covenant that Jesus emphatically said, “…let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

There is no explicit statement in the Bible where God says, “Thou shalt not divorce.” However, it is evident through the scriptures that God did not design marriage to be broken.

In Malachi 2:16, there is a clear statement of God. It reads, “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce…” The passage leading to this verse was God addressing the treatment of some men to their wives.

They were dealing “treacherously” with the wife of their youths and not loving them. God then states that He hates divorce, and they were to take heed not to deal treacherously with their wives.

With this said, it is also true that God gives allowance for separation and even divorce in some instances, which will be addressed in this article.

Divorce is rampant in the world today, and many Christians do not yet understand the importance attached to the union in the eyes of God.

They, therefore, get married in ignorance or refuse to understand or carry out their roles/duties in marriage to their spouses, which leads to divorce.

Many Christian husbands and wives are passing through a great deal of abuse in their marriages due to this error, and they find themselves in situations that go against the purpose of marriage as God ordained it to be. However, the question is: Is abuse, especially emotional abuse, enough grounds for divorce?

What does the Bible say about this?biblical grounds for divorce emotional abuse

Biblical grounds for divorce

Though God’s stance on divorce is clear, the Bible mentions instances when divorce may be permitted. They are:

  • Sexual immorality (adultery)
  • Unbelieving spouse

Sexual immoralitybiblical reasons for divorce emotional abuse

“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:32 (ESV).

In the above scripture, Jesus briefly talks about divorce during His sermon on the Mount while listing several things in the law that the people misinterpreted in their lifestyle.

It was clear to Jesus that some men found flimsy excuses to put away (i.e., divorce) their wives because there was an allowance for divorce in the law given by Moses. He addresses this in detail in Matthew 19:3-9.

“He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:8-9 (ESV).

The word translated as sexual immorality is “porneia” which also translates to the words “fornication” or “whoredom.”

Sexual immorality simply means having sexual relations in a way that God condemns and disapproves.

Having sexual intercourse with a man or woman who is not your husband or wife is immoral in the sight of God.

In Hebrews 13:4, the writer tells us that marriage is honorable and that God will judge the whoremongers and adulterers.

Committing sexual immorality is a breach of the marriage covenant.

As earlier stated, God was angry many times with the children of Israel because they committed whoredom (adultery) with other gods.

God had told them, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:3-5).

However, they went ahead to serve other gods, and God released His judgment upon them.

“Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:32).

Like the children of Israel broke their covenant with God, so also is engaging in sexual immorality, breaking the marriage covenant, and this is why divorce may be allowed by God regarding this matter.

“May” because although the Israelites broke their covenant with God many times, God only punished them for the time being and showed them mercy afterward.

Therefore, though sexual immorality is a valid, biblical reason for divorce, couples can work things out, and both choose to renew their vows and remain married.

However, it is a sin to divorce your wife or husband on any other grounds except sexual immorality, according to Jesus, and remarry someone else. He calls doing so adultery as well.

Unbelieving spousechristian divorce emotional abuse

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 (ESV).

In this text, Paul explains another instance when divorce may be allowed.

Suppose the unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce (or be separated from) their believing spouse. In that case, they are no longer enslaved or bound to the covenant but are free.

In verse thirty-nine of the same chapter, Paul states that the wife and husband are bound by law as long as they live, and only death can free them. However, verses twelve to fifteen show that the spouse who is a believer is free from the marriage if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce.

This means that the Christian isn’t the one who instigates the divorce.

He/she is innocent. But if their spouse happens to be a nonbeliever and no longer wants to be married to them for whatever reason, the blame is not on the believer, and therefore, they are not bound.

It will be a sin for the Christian, however, to be the one to initiate the divorce just for the reason that their spouses are not Christians.

Is abuse a valid reason for divorce?is emotional abuse biblical grounds for divorce

When it comes to abuse in marriage, although not given as a reason for divorce, the Bible speaks against abuse in many passages.

In Psalms 103:6, the psalmist says God executes judgment for the oppressed.

In Psalms 72:4, he says that God will break in pieces the oppressor.

1 John 4:16 tells us that those who dwell in love dwell in God.

In 1 Corinthians 13, love is described as patient, kind, not easily provoked, and doesn’t think of doing evil. It is evil to oppress a person, and abuse is oppression.

Although many quickly identify physical abuse and speak heavily against it, not many people view emotional abuse as just as bad.

In Psalms 15:3, the one who is said to dwell in God’s holy hill is a person who does not slander with his tongue or do evil to others.

Life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), and words have the power to break and build.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)

The Bible compares harsh words to the piercing of a sword. Just as it is painful when one is stabbed with a knife, so is the effect of harsh words on the soul.

Many Christians are dying slowly at the hands of their emotionally abusive spouses because many take emotional abuse for granted.

They choose to remain silent because they are not taken seriously or want to avoid being tagged “unforgiving.”

Though scars can be seen on the body of a physically abused person, the damage done to the soul of the emotionally abused cannot be seen. Still, the damages are just as bad and sometimes worse.

In James 1:26, the Bible says that the person who doesn’t control his tongue deceives himself, and his religion is worthless.

An emotional abuser doesn’t control his/her tongue, saying and doing wicked things that break the heart and soul. Proverbs 18:14 says, “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (ESV).

God knows the extent of damage abusive words can do to the heart, and He does not endorse such an act.

Even in the Old Testament, God spoke about the husband’s proper treatment of the wife (see Deuteronomy 21:11- 14). So, does this mean abuse is enough for divorce? Paul gives us an idea of what God’s response to this is.

“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (ESV)

Paul acknowledges that there may be reasons to be separated from one’s spouse, and he states that in such a case, the person must remain unmarried.

In Proverbs 21:9,19, the Bible says that it is better to dwell in the corner of the roof or in the wilderness than to dwell with a contentious woman.

God cares about the well-being of His children and will not want them to remain in a place where they are being abused either physically or verbally. However, due to the marriage covenant, they can only be separated, and both must remain unmarried. Otherwise, they commit adultery.

What does the Bible say about emotionally abusive husbands?what does the bible say about emotional abuse

The Bible is clear on how husbands must treat their wives.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (ESV).

Husbands are meant to be loving and gentle with their wives, giving them honor and respect (Colossians 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7). Therefore, husbands who emotionally abuse their wives are going against the will of God.

They are in disobedience, and they are walking in unrighteousness.

An emotionally abusive husband does not possess the fruit of the Spirit.

He is not being led by the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:16-23, Romans 8:1). They may profess to be Christians. Still, the Bible calls them abominable for being disobedient (Titus 1:16).

It is not God’s will that any should perish, but that all will come into repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Therefore, God would prefer that marriages are not broken, just as He had wanted it from the beginning. However, sexual immorality, an unbelieving spouse wanting separation, and abuse in marriage could lead to marriages being dissolved and broken.

If every Christian can genuinely walk with God and submit to Him, there would be fewer divorces among Christians, and the name of the Lord would be glorified. Therefore, let us all seek to walk in the Spirit.


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